Christians and Gay Marriage in Washington State
January 9, 2013 4 Comments
Christians in my home state of Washington have reacted to the legalization of gay marriage in a variety of ways. Gary Tabor, a Superior Court Judge in Thurston County, has decided not to make himself available to perform gay marriages for “philosophical and religious reasons.” (Importantly, the title of the article is misleading because he says he is willing to do what the law requires if called upon to do it.) This is especially interesting to me because he is a member of my ecclesial tradition, the churches of Christ. While Judge Tabor is not quoted in the article for the explicit religious reasons he would prefer not to peform gay marriages, the article quotes Oklahoma Christian University’s website, his alma mater, which says they “strive to treat our bodies with the honor due the temple of the Holy Spirit — honoring God’s plan that sexual relations be a part of a marriage between a man and a woman, dressing modestly, and avoiding any self-destructive practices.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has reflected on the way her faith informed her advocacy of the bill to legalize gay marriage. KPLU, the local NPR station, reports her reflections in this way:
There’s something else Gregoire will be remembered for. Same-sex marriage. She came into office a supporter of gay rights, but not marriage. “And it’s probably the biggest occasion in which my religion, something that I hold very dear, stood in the way of me doing what I thought was right,” she says.
Gregoire is Catholic. In 2011 she changed her position on marriage. As a lawyer she kept coming back to the concept of separate but equal. But it didn’t sit well with her. It was at Thanksgiving with her husband and daughters that she told her family she would not only come out in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, but she would lead the effort to pass the legislation.
“It resulted in all of us hugging each other and crying,” she says. “I look back on it, it was an emotional moment for me.”
The bill passed and this fall withstood a referendum challenge. Gregoire says she is convinced Washington is on the right of history. But she has paid a personal price.
“I don’t attend Mass at my parish right now,” she says. “I go other places. That’s it.”
Gregoire says she’s convinced the day will come when she returns to her parish. In the meantime, “I’ve done what I thought was right. I’ve done what I think Jesus would say to me. ‘Do the right thing, love thy neighbor, respect your fellow human being.’”
Two different appeals to Christian beliefs – one that God has an eternal plan for sex which is confined to the bed of monogamously married heterosexuals and one to Jesus’s injunction to love one’s neighbor – to justify different stances on a contemporary political issue. One a Protestant and the other a Catholic. One a judge and the other a politician.
This is life in America. Religion, especially Christianity, impacts our understandings of justice, liberty, and equality in big and small ways every single day and is having a direct impact on those who live with these Christians whether they are Christian or not.
The question, then, is not whether “religion” should be in “politics.” Religion and politics are intimately intertwined and interact in a variety of ambiguous ways. We should strive to understand better how religion actually functions in politics rather than debating whether it should or not. Religion clearly does affect politics. The questions we should be asking are “How?” and “How can it do so faithfully serving its own ends and the common good?” We might be surprised at the answers we come up with.